40.6-pound king leads Spring Salmon Derby on final day

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2001

For once, Alfred McKinley Sr. is hoping the fishing is bad, so he can hold onto the top spot in the Spring King Salmon Derby until it closes tonight.

If he does, the 40.6-pound king is worth a Dodge Neon sedan - not a bad catch for a few hours of fishing on May 25.

But fish are still weighing in through 7 p.m. tonight and derby director Archie Cavanaugh expects a bigger fish might still be waiting.

"You know within the last five years the average of the top king has been around 42 pounds," Cavanaugh said. "There's possibly a 42-pounder that can be caught between Lizardhead and to the south. I suspect that would be the prehistoric king area out there."

Could be. McKinley caught his king outside Funter Bay from his 25-foot Bayliner.

"Ten minutes after we let down - strike," McKinley said. "It felt pretty heavy when it went under the boat."

The pole pulled McKinley arms straight down along the boat side and McKinley's wrists started to tire. He managed to work the fish into a better position and after about 15 minutes he lifted it slowly from the water.

"When we first caught the king it looked small, but my son said, 'No, that's a big one dad,'" McKinley said.

It would have been heavier if he'd taken it straight in to weigh, McKinley said, but they decided to try for more.

"Well, that's the one mistake we made," McKinley said.

Their lines stayed limp for the next three hours, so they headed back to weigh the fish.

Now's the hardest part, waiting to see if anyone brings in a larger fish.

"Today's going to be the longest day, I think," McKinley said, before heading back out to fish.

He's not alone out there. Just Wednesday morning Eric Chilton pulled in a 35.3-pound fish off a rock off False Outer Point, which put him in seventh place. He bumped Peter Nakamura down to 30th position, one of the better places to be because of a $500 prize for the last spot.

"It's so exciting to be out there on the grounds. It's a festive mood," Cavanaugh said. "This close to the end of the derby just has all the buzz of excitement in the air."

Throughout the spring derby people fishing from the rocks have been competing equally with those on boats, working their way from Outer Point along the shores parallel the Breadline, Cavanaugh said.

Fred Wigg, who's in sixth place with a 35.5-pound king, has been fishing for 16 hours some days, Cavanaugh said.

"He finds his rock space real quick, that guy. He gets a piece of the rock and he'll hang tough until 9 p.m.," said Cavanaugh. "If you work hard enough you become Michael Jordan."

The kings keep biting despite a shortage of bait herring.

"I don't know how these guys are catching kings out there unless they had a stash put away, because I've been advising guys to buy Oscar Meyer wieners," Cavanaugh said. "Split the tail, make it wiggle."

McKinley caught his big king with herring, still the preferred method by fishermen who can find it. Cavanaugh wonders if some fishermen are trying spinners, the ones commercial fishermen used to use to catch 50-pound kings.

No matter how many fish were caught, the success of the derby itself depends on the number of tickets sold. Revenue from the ticket sales pays for scholarships.

So far derby officials counted 470 tickets and more are coming in. Last year, when the top prize was cash instead of a car, the derby sold 599 tickets. Cavanaugh is still hoping to break that record, but he's also considering returning to a cash prize next year.

"That might be an indication that people in the community and surrounding areas like the cash, because they can buy whatever they want with $10 grand, $13 grand," Cavanaugh said.

A few new prizes may be improvised this year for the king salmon dinner at 6 p.m. June 6 in the Tlingit and Haida Vocational Center, Cavanaugh said. He's thinking about giving out one for the cutest king salmon and so far Richard Stitt's a contender, with a wee 14.4-pound king.

Kristan Hutchison can be reached at khutchison@juneauempire.com.

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